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Six ways that the GEO Indigenous Alliance will bring ambition and hope to the COP15 negotiations

The GEO Indigenous Alliance is participating in the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, known as COP15, which begins today in Montreal. 196 governments, non-governmental organisations, academics, businesses and Indigenous leaders from around the world will gather Dec. 7-19 to reach a landmark agreement on global action to protect biodiversity. The framework must include an ambitious plan to address the root causes of nature's loss and put us on track to halt and reverse it by 2030.

Learn here how two of the founding members of the GEO Indigenous Alliance, James Rattling Leaf Sr. of the Rosebud Sioux tribe and Mario Vargas Shakaim of the Shuar Nation of the Ecuadorian Amazon, are bringing much-needed ambition and hope to the negotiations.

What is the GEO Indigenous Alliance?

The GEO Indigenous Alliance is the first and only Indigenous-led alliance advocating for the access and use of Earth observation data (EO) - including satellite imagery, remote sensing data, and ground-based observations - by and for Indigenous and underrepresented communities worldwide. The GEO Indigenous Alliance advocates for Indigenous Peoples and local communities to play a leading role in biodiversity conservation by empowering them to use EO data and tools, along with their Indigenous and traditional knowledge, to protect and conserve Indigenous Cultural Heritage by creating a knowledge base that sustains the Earth on which we live.

Below are five ways the GEO Indigenous Alliance will bring ambition and hope to the negotiations through the use of Indigenous-led EO data and tools.

1. Supporting Indigenous-led conservation

Although Indigenous Peoples make up less than 5 percent of the world's population, they are the custodians of 80 percent of the planet's biodiversity. In many cases, their traditional territories coincide with areas rich in species and genetic diversity. This is no coincidence - Indigenous Peoples have developed a deep relationship with their natural environment over millennia through observational data. Their knowledge of plants, animals and ecosystems is unsurpassed. This close relationship with their environment is embedded in their cultures and shapes their identity.

With the advent of Earth observation tools (EO) and the democratisation of satellite imagery, Indigenous Peoples are now able to use this data, along with their Indigenous knowledge, to not only understand their own changing environment, but also to make decisions about how best to conserve it. By using EO to monitor and understand the planet's environment and natural resources such as forests, rivers, and croplands, Indigenous Peoples are developing evidence-based approaches to conserve biodiversity. By monitoring these areas over time, we can better understand how they are changing and the impact of human activities on them. Ultimately, Earth observations combined with Indigenous knowledge can be a powerful tool for understanding and protecting the planet's biodiversity. The GEO Indigenous Alliance is working with Indigenous Peoples to develop several EO tools to assess ecosystem health by monitoring vegetation growth and water resources worldwide

2. Securing the land rights and property of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples can use Earth observation data to help them secure their rights to their traditional lands. This data can be used to support traditional land use claims, document changes in land cover, and monitor resource extraction and other activities that may impact Indigenous communities. There are a number of reasons why this is important. First, securing land rights is critical to the survival and well-being of Indigenous Peoples and to the biodiversity of our planet. Second, Earth observation data can provide invaluable records of traditional land use and occupation that can be used to defend against false claims to land ownership. Finally, monitoring activities on Indigenous lands can help ensure that they are conducted in a manner that respects traditional values and does not cause undue harm to the environment. The GEO Indigenous Alliance works with Indigenous Peoples to harness the power of EO and achieve recognition of their rights to their lands.

3. Revitalizing Indigenous languages

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2021 the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) in an effort to promote better understanding of the vital role they play in our world’s cultural and linguistic diversity. According to the UN every year, an average of two Indigenous languages dies out. The loss of Indigenous languages is not only a loss for the people who speak them, but for humanity as a whole. Indigenous Peoples have an intimate knowledge of their local ecosystems and play a critical role in the protection of biodiversity. When an Indigenous language dies, we lose not only the language itself but also the valuable knowledge that is embedded within it. This is why it is so important to preserve Indigenous languages. They are a key part of our global heritage and play a vital role in the protection of our planet's biodiversity. The GEO Indigenous Alliance is co-designing Indigenous led EO tools to preserve and revitalise endangered languages and connect young people with Elders of their community who hold this valuable knowledge.

4. Enhancing the transfer of knowledge between Elders and youth

Indigenous peoples have relied on the transfer of knowledge between the Elders and the youth for centuries. This transfer of knowledge is critical for biodiversity conservation. Now, with the help of EO tools, Indigenous Peoples are able to enhance this process of knowledge transfer.Satellite imagery, for example, can be used to teach young people about their traditional territories and the resources available there. With this information, they can learn how to manage these resources sustainably and protect them for future generations. The GEO Indigenous Alliance promotes knowledge transfer between Elders and Indigenous youth, bringing together Indigenous Peoples from around the world to share their knowledge and co-design innovative solutions through Indigenous Hack-athons.

5. Empowering Indigenous women and youth in biodiversity conservation and climate negotiations

Worldwide, Indigenous women are guardians of some of the world’s last remaining intact ecosystems. They have an intimate knowledge of their local flora and fauna, and a deep understanding of the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between humans and the natural world. Indigenous women are on the frontlines of the fight to protect our planet’s biodiversity. In the Amazon Basin, for example, Indigenous women have successfully prevented logging and mining companies from destroying their rainforest homes. Indigenous women are at the forefront of this resistance, using their knowledge of the forest to guide their community's activism. In many parts of the world, Indigenous women are standing up to powerful interests that want to exploit natural resources without regard for environmental protection. The GEO Indigenous Alliance uses EO to empower Indigenous women to play a more active role in decisions that affect their land and livelihoods, both locally and internationally

"Young Indigenous women in the Ecuadorian Amazon are currently working on environmental monitoring of Indigenous Peoples' territories. Through fieldwork, the use of drones, GPS, maps, and their Indigenous knowledge, they are collecting evidence-based data on environmental degradation in the Ecuadorian Amazon and developing sustainable solutions for Indigenous Peoples in their territories. It is important that these young women raise their voices at important events on biodiversity and climate change at the international level so that they can identify and propose solutions and strategies based on their Indigenous knowledge and ensure that climate finance reaches their communities directly.”
Mario Vargas Shakaim (Shuar) Co-founder of the GEO Indigenous Alliance

6. Maximising the impact of climate finance

In order to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation, policy makers need access to detailed and transparent information on the state of biodiversity. Satellite imagery is a powerful tool that can provide this information, helping policy makers to identify areas of priority and make informed decisions on where to allocate resources. Satellite imagery can show the distribution of different species of plants and animals, as well as their changing patterns over time. This information is vital for understanding the impact of climate change on biodiversity and developing effective conservation strategies. In addition, satellite images can be used to monitor protected areas and assess the effectiveness of conservation measures. The GEO Indigenous Alliance is empowering Indigenous Peoples to use EO data and tools to maximise the impact of available resources. Indigenous communities that are able to use satellite imagery to make informed climate finance decisions will be in a strong position to safeguard biodiversity and ensure that limited available resources are used effectively.

To learn more about the #GEOIndigenousAlliance or to support an upcoming #IndigenousHackathon, please contact Diana Mastracci Sanchez, International Strategic Liaison of the GEO Indigenous Alliance


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